The New Orleans Saints are expected to cut ties with all-purpose back Darren Sproles in a cost-cutting move, and all signs point to him being released. There’s still a chance that the Saints could find a trade partner for him, but it sounds like they will release Sproles due to a lack of interested parties on the trading block. He’ll be snapped up quickly, as he’s one of the NFL’s most versatile backs. The move saves the Saints $3.5 million, and that’s a significant amount of money in the quest to save money to give a mega deal to Jimmy Graham, who unwisely had the audacity to sound out against the move.
Anyway, the Saints decision to get rid of Sproles hasn’t stopped reports from swirling that Pierre Thomas is on the trade block, and I think it would be a mistake for the Saints to get rid of both backs in the same offseason. Mark Ingram had excellent games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys last season, and he and Khiry Robinson are definitely promising. But can you put your eggs in their baskets and bank on those two leading the running game? I’m not so sure. Lance Moore’s release makes the rest of the team’s pass-catchers a little bit more valuable, and the Saints decision to get rid of Sproles increases the value of Thomas more than it increases the value of even Ingram and Robinson combined.
Like Sproles, Thomas was one of the league’s most productive pass-catching backs last season, and I bet a lot of people would be surprised to find out that Thomas caught more passes than Sproles did last year. The 29-year-old Illinois product had 77 catches, whereas the 30-year-old Kansas State product hauled in 71. Those two were a key part of the Saints offense last season, and their ability to check down and move the chains with their backs was a big reason for their success.
Therefore, it wouldn’t be wise to scrap something that clearly worked for them last season by cutting ties with both players. Sproles may be the bigger name, but there’s a reason why the Saints decided to let him go before Thomas; the latter RB is honestly better. Their ages are essentially a wash (Thomas is one year younger, though), but Thomas is making just $2.8 million in next season’s contract year compared to the $3.5 million that Sproles was set to make.
More importantly, Sproles has never ran the ball 100 times in a season, whereas Thomas ran the ball 147 times last year and has five seasons with over 100 carries. He’s as much of an all-purpose back as Sproles is, and while he isn’t as agile or explosive, he’s plenty fast. Thomas is a great receiver out of the backfield in his own right, and he’s a significantly better rusher. He has only one year left on his contract anyway, so it’s more wise for the Saints to keep him around for at least one more season. If both Ingram and Robinson fulfill their potential in 2014, then the Saints can let Thomas go. But releasing him now doesn’t make much sense, even if the team needs to save money. He is still a productive player, and keeping him around gives the team’s running game and passing attack stability in 2014.
I definitely don’t envy the position the Saints organization is in, and I hope Graham realizes just how difficult some of these cut and trade options are. The Saints should deal Thomas if they can receive adequate compensation for him, but outright cutting him doesn’t seem like the right answer. What makes things so complicate is the simple question, “Where else do they make cuts if they don’t trade/release Thomas?”
Robinson and Ingram have obvious upside, but it’s risky for a team with Super Bowl aspirations like the Saints to cut ties with their most proven back. I could see Robinson and Ingram having big breakout seasons next year, but I could also see them busting. Plus, Thomas brings the pass-catching ability that the Saints crave in the backfield, whereas neither of the other two RBs have shown anywhere near that kind of ability.